Is Maker’s Mark watering down from 45% abv to 42% or not? For a while there, we weren’t sure.
The company suffered a wave of criticism when it announced plans to drop its abv to address issues of supply. So much so that just a few days later it has retracted its decision, announcing that Maker’s will stay at 45%.
To their credit, Rob and Bill Samuels Jr (chief operating officer and chairman emeritus, respectively), have been communicative throughout, first defending the change in abv, and then explaining the decision to revert to the original strength. In a joint statement, they explained: ‘You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.’
There’s apparently already work being done to expand the distillery’s capacity, so any shortages will only be short-term ones. But that might be the least of the Samuels’ worries. General opinion, even after the retraction, suggests the damage to the brand might already be done.
There’s a lot of speculation that the whole affair was simply a cynical brand-awareness exercise. However, in an interview given before the retraction, Bill Samuels stated that ‘It [the reduction in abv]allows what Rob felt was an extra four years to fill the gaps that were causing us the biggest problems. The biggest ones are the bars and restaurants that have Maker’s Mark cocktails on their menus. We’re taking care of customers who have been with us for a long time.’ This suggests that the move was simply an attempt to take care of loyal on-trade customers, these same customers reacted to the change with anger, so in this light the idea that the whole fiasco was no more than a bad-judgement call seems to gain more credence.
Last week Imbibe was assured that the reduction in abv would be mirrored in pricing, with the lower level of duty which would be incurred being passed on to customers. Now, though, a noticeable price hike looks to be on the cards, something which those opposing the reduction stated very clearly would be preferable to a lower alcohol content. Beam Inc is yet to comment on the financial implications, but people are inevitably wondering: will this raise in price necessarily be significant enough to reposition Maker’s in the marketplace? Only time will tell…